An epic hearing concerning a legal challenge by developer Abe Atiyeh alleging contract zoning about the massive proposed Madison Farms housing development consumed the Bethlehem Township Zoning Hearing Board for four hours Wednesday night.
Fraught with controversy and confusion the board continued the hearing yet again, this time until December 20.
And yet the big news was that Atiyeh wasn't even there. Why would he be since the he now has nothing to do with the legal challenge.
Akin to a new prize fighter stepping into the ring, Atiyeh threw the board a wicked curveball and withdrew his legal challenge, in effect transferring his suit to another party – Raymond and Megan Russin of Bethlehem Township– to fight the battle against the development.
It was the beginning of what could only classified as yet another bizarre chapter in the legal life of one Abraham Atiyeh.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve been on this board for 28 years,” said Chairman Stephen Szy.
It took the five-member board - who became four when board member David Chismar left the meeting early – to ascertain if Raymond Russin, who was in attendance, even had the legal right to bring the case before them.
After about two hours of attorneys disseminating legal minutia, the body voted that yes, in fact Russin had ability to bring forth the challenge in what had been Atiyeh’s case. Then the body had to be persuaded that Russin had the standing to bring the case, which they did by a 3-1 vote on the basis that his residence is about 1,500 feet way from the proposed Madison Farms project.
That left them to determin if Russin actually could reach the threshold of being an aggravated party, a legal requirement in the case, who would be adversely impacted by the proposed development.
Russin testified that he was opposed to four and five-story buildings in the township, saying that if he “wanted to live in a city I would move to a city” and not choose to live in a township.
“Having that many apartments (on the proposed site) is ridiculous,” he noted during his testimony. “I am opposed to it.”
When asked by Szy what made him an aggravated party, Russin testified that if the project goes through he would have a longer commute to work and that would lower the quality of life not only for him, but all township residents.
"It will change the township forever," he said at one point. "...I'm trying to stop the Madison Farms Development."
He also testified that Atiyeh was not paying the costly legal bills associated with his challenge.
I am responsible for the legal fees,” he added.
The Madison Farms project is proposed to encompass about 103 acres near Freemansburg Avenue and Emrick Boulevard and would feature 837 homes and about 140,000 square feet of commercial space to be developed by KRE-Bethlehem.